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November 18, 2005

Beavers go with first-time starter

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EUGENE, Ore. - Ryan Gunderson's first start at quarterback for Oregon State couldn't be much more important.

Gunderson and the Beavers face archrival and 10th-ranked Oregon on Saturday in the final game of the season, one with bowl implications on both sides.

The 109th edition of the Civil War isn't exactly the ideal setting to break in a young quarterback.

"The perfect setup would be playing at home against a team not ranked No. 10 in the country," Gunderson said with a smirk.

The 6-foot-5, 226-pound sophomore is taking over this week for Matt Moore, who injured his right knee in Oregon State's 20-17 home loss to Stanford last weekend.

The Beavers (5-5, 3-4 Pac-10) need one more win for bowl eligibility. They face Oregon (9-1, 6-1), which could be in the mix for a Bowl Championship Series invitation.

Gunderson has completed 32 of 59 passes this season for 367 yards and a touchdown in relief of Moore. He hasn't been intercepted.

"Ever since Saturday I haven't really been able to get my mind off of it - in class and stuff," he said.

Moore, a junior transfer from UCLA who beat out Gunderson for the starting job last spring, could return if the Beavers win and go to a bowl. Moore passed for 2,711 yards, 11 touchdowns and had 19 interceptions.

"All of a sudden it's the last regular season game, and there's a new starter," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "But I'm pretty excited about it. I know the kind of guy (Gunderson) is and the preparation put into it, and he'll give it his all. And he won't be scared."

The focus will also be on the quarterback situation for the Ducks, who again turn to both Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf.

Oregon went to a two-QB system after starter Kellen Clemens broke his ankle on Oct. 22 against Arizona. It has worked, with Leaf taking over in overtime for a victory over California, and Dixon orchestrating the final drive for a last-second field goal to beat Washington State last weekend.

Combined, Dixon and Leaf have thrown for 743 yards and five touchdowns this season. Dixon will start, and Leaf, the younger brother of former Washington State star Ryan Leaf, will come in situationally.

"It's a huge confidence builder and these guys did a great job," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. "Have them getting this kind of experience as sophomores and competing with each other and supporting each other, too, is an amazing deal."

Clemens, who finishes his college career with an Oregon-record 60.9 completion percentage, will still be part of the game - on the sidelines as an undergraduate assistant coach.

If Oregon wins the Civil War, they will finish with one conference loss - to top-ranked USC. The Ducks need the Trojans to finish with victories over Fresno State and UCLA for a national championship berth.

If that happens, Oregon could be selected for an at-large BCS bid to the Fiesta, Orange or Sugar bowls.

"A 10th win might get us to the Fiesta, it might get us to the Holiday Bowl, I don't know," Oregon tailback Terrence Whitehead said. "But some of that depends on what happens around the country in other games, so the only thing you think about is going out and getting that 10th win because that's all you can do."

The home team has won the Civil War each year since 1997 and the Beavers haven't won at Autzen Stadium in 12 years.

It could be the final college game for Oregon State receiver Mike Hass, one of the best walk-ons the state has ever seen.

Hass leads the nation this season with an average of 142.5 receiving yards. His career yards are 230 short of Troy Walters' Pac-10 record at Stanford. He's 95 yards shy of Johnnie Morton's single-season conference record of 1,520 yards at USC in 1993.

For more coverage of the Oregon State Beavers, check out BeaverBlitz.com.

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